ORCHARD PARK, NY - MAY 11: T.J. Graham #11 of the Buffalo Bills makes a catch during Buffalo Bills Rookie Camp on May 11, 2012 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
While we're on the topic of frequently asked questions this morning, one popular query posed to me has been in the vein of the following: why did the Buffalo Bills target a receiver with vertical speed (i.e. T.J. Graham) in the 2012 NFL Draft, sacrificing size to do so?
The short answer is that Chan Gailey asked for that type of player. The longer answer doesn't require a lot of deep analysis, either: Gailey asked for that type of player because his core group of offensive weapons, while highly productive, lacks that deep speed element.
No NFL offense can have more than five skill players on the field at one time, and Buffalo just so happens to have five such players that have proven themselves capable of being productive on the roster: running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, receivers Stevie Johnson and David Nelson, and tight end Scott Chandler.
In the context of Gailey's offense, all five of those players are capable of picking up big chunks of yardage at a time. All five have done it (some more frequently than others), and if Gailey can get his offense clicking again (and get better luck on the injury front), they're likely to do it again, as well.
What the group lacks is home run speed. Spiller is the fastest player in the group, and while his presence on the field affects the way teams match up against the Bills, the effect isn't so grand that teams aren't still scrunching personnel up toward the line of scrimmage. Jackson and Johnson have made big plays, but they're not capable of consistently out-running guys based solely on their jets (both make up for their lack of top-end speed with outstanding open-field instincts) - and again, they're not affecting the way teams defend Gailey's offense. Nelson and Chandler, meanwhile, are more possession and red zone weapons than anything else.
The one element missing from Gailey's offensive attack was vertical speed; he only had it in project-type players at the tail end of the roster. Graham is probably going to be competing with that project-type group initially, as it would be unfair to expect him to crack that Top 5 offensive weapons list right away considering how raw he is. But the team needed to change the way defenses play them more than anything else; having vertical speed opens things up for the rest of the team's productive weapons.
Why the sacrifice in size, then? Simple: gigantic receivers with blazing speed aren't exactly easy to find. Clearly, if the Bills could have drafted a prospect like that, they would have jumped at the chance - anyone would have. In the end, however, the team's need for speed was much more desperate than their need for size - particularly when factoring in how gigantic both Nelson and Chandler are - and that's why Graham was such a coveted commodity for Buffalo.
It's on Gailey to make Graham enough of a factor to open up the offense and change the way defenses cover the Bills. It's on Graham to crack that Top 5 group of offensive weapons and help transform Buffalo's offense from a competitive one to a potentially elite one.